One unfortunate thing about the design of this house is that the tower is too short, regulated by a very severe zoning restriction.  A 35-foot building height is really common in many ordinances where our houses are located.  However, in Virginia Beach the way in which height is measured is very peculiar.  For some reason, perhaps political, building height is measured to the highest ridge peak of the structure.  Planners and architects know this is an unreasonably restrictive criteria, probably vulnerable to being struck down in a court of law if someone was willing to take the time to challenge it. There is no precedent for such a restrictive interpretation of building height, there is no rationale for it either.

The legal basis for limiting building height is historically to allow for sunlight to reach adjacent properties next door, and also to provide for air flow between buildings, dating back from the days of urban tenement structures. Whoever wrote the ordinance in Virginia Beach did not understand that a shadows on an adjacent property are not cast from the ridge of a pitched roof next door to it.  Shadows are cast from the average height of the building mass, somewhere midway from the eave to the ridge.  Norfolk boarders Virginia Beach to the west where its precedent for measuring building height is perfectly logical, completely consistent with the legal basis for height limit of residential structures. Its 35-foot building height is measured to the average height of the sloped plane of a pitched roof.

There is also no legal precedent to protect an adjacent property from a view across a next door property. Without going into the unenforceable of such a criteria suffice to say that it is almost impossible to block someone’s view from the ridge height of a pitched roof. The peak of a pitched roof is always above the line of sight of the occupied space of the house next door to it. On the other hand it is easy to imagine that an elected city council member could be badgered by an irate constituent who is worried about having a view blocked by the height of neighboring property. I suppose this is the origin of the peculiar way that Virginia Beach measures the height of residences in its jurisdiction.

Virginia Beach has many beautiful coastal properties for more and more imaginative designs to come. If it doesn’t change its peculiar manner of measuring building height new designs will continue to be less architecturally attractive and less exciting for the home owner’s than they could be.

This design has wrap around balcony porches on three sides, the porches are sheltered on each floor level. There is also a wonderful lookout tower on the third floor. This four-bedroom plan has two master suites. The main living area is on the second floor for maximum views for daytime spaces. It also has an elevator from the attached garage convenient to the Kitchen as well as access for anyone challenged by using the stair. The property lies at the tip of a peninsula at the entrance to boating canals to Broad Bay Island in Virginia Beach. It is an amazing property and fantastic privilege to be the architect for this true coastal house.

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    Urban Underbelly is a blog that seeks to share the back stories of successes and struggles in achieving the visions of New Urbanism, especially in Hampton Roads, Virginia

    New Urbanism: is a city planning and architecture movement directed at the creation and restoration of vibrant neighborhood places: centralized, sustainable, walkable and socially diverse.
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